By Bill Marsano. Before Jason Sheehan became a food writer for an alternative Denver paper called Westword, before he won a James beard award for his writing, before he finally managed to semi-settle down with Laura the Love of His Life, he was not what you would call a chef but what you would call a cook. Maybe even a MERE cook, the kind of guy you'll find in an inferno kitchen in Tampa, cooking for Early Birds. Let this be clear: Sheehan's rowdy, cheerfully profane story is not about becoming the sort of clean-apron, tall-toque star of a Food Network series but about starting at the blue-collar bottom and mostly staying there. So if you're a chef-worshiper, a doctrinaire foodie, a devotee of Food Arts magazine, maybe this book isn't for you.
He throws you right into the madness; It's Tampa, all right, and the Crab Shack's kitchen has a barely competent FNG ["F'ing New Guy"], is a man short because of a poorly timed murder) and soon is another man short when moronic foolery renders the owner unconscious. "As was only to be expected," Sheehan writes, "that was when the real dinner hit finally came tumbling in." The palce is packed and the staff goes crazy in a weirdly competent way: "Sturgis and I sang along with the radio, bouncing on our toes, burning energy while we had it and twirling tongs on our fingers like gunslingers before dropping them onto the steamer's bar handles. We shouted callbacks to Floyd with the strange, exaggerated politeness and house slang of the line: 'Firing tables fifty-five, thirty, sixty-eight, thank you. Going on eight filet. Four well, three middy, one rare. Working fourteen all day, hold six. Five strip up and down. Temps rare, rare, middy waiting on po fries, two well going baker, thank you. Wheel, new fires, please. We've got space.' We yelled at Roberto, at Floyd, at the radio and each other. We yelled at the runners . . . and when we weren't yelling, we were muttering, cursing, talking to the meat, the fire; begging and yelling and cajoling more heat out of the grills, bricking the steaks with iron weights, throwing them in the microwave to speed them along to temp, constantly poking and prodding and plating them to the rail, waiting for po--for starch--and veg and wrap . . . . Then the FNG passed out from the heat."
All is chaos. Little is understood and the rest barely seen; all you have is the hope that, like the FNG, you'll regain consciousness, catch on and catch up during this long wild ride. And in time you will as you follow Sheehan from one job (and confrontation and firing or walkout) to the next in several states with various pals; tune in as Laura gets (mysteriously) kicked out of Mexico; get the lowdown on hotel cooking (good for pay and benefits, but it crushes creativity) and stand amazed when Sheehan is hired as a corporate chef by Wegman's ("I would . . get looks like I was there to rob the place.").
All in all, this book is like a bacon sandwich: A delicious greasy pleasure. Dig in!--Bill Marsano is a James Beard Award-winning writer; he specializes in wine, spirits and travel. He served time as a waiter in his youth but was never invited into the kitchen to "play with knives and fire."